Bounded by high stone walls, its gates firmly locked for most of the year against the outside world, the Lambeth Palace garden is one of London’s best kept and loveliest secrets.
The first garden was established, in what was then the countryside surrounding London, by the monks of Rochester who grew fruit, herbs and vegetables for their table. At the end of the 12th century, it became the garden of Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The old monastery chapel, built in 1234 and the crypt chapel built in 1215 still stand today, along with some of the monks’ original trees and vines. The Palace has had many alterations and additions over the years. The oldest remaining sections are Cranmer’s Tower which dates back to 1550 and the Great Hall which was built in 1664. Architect Edward Blore’s main palace building, which houses the state rooms and the Archbishop’s private accommodation, was the last addition to the complex. It was completed in 1830.
The garden has been meticulously maintained and developed over the centuries. It is planted with a huge range and variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. It is still highly productive.
The orchard, which contains apples, pears, quinces and plums, stands near the site of the first vegetable garden. The “White Marseilles” fig trees were planted in 1556 by Cardinal Archbishop Pole. The tulip trees were introduced by John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I. The rose terrace was built in about 1930 by Archbishop Cosmo Lang and includes the famous pink Savoy Hotel bloom. The native hedge is planted with blackthorn, hawthorn, honeysuckle, holly and hazel. Secluded walks border the garden, like the Hornbeam Allee which forms a promenade to a circle of native hedge with seats at the end, or the Woodland Walk, which is lined with fragrant flowers.
There are vast, sunny lawns, ponds and fountains. Spreading mulberry and beech trees are underplanted with carpets of spring bulbs. Fountains patter gently on ponds. Bees from the hives introduced in 2004 by the London Beekeeper’s Association potter unhurriedly among the flowers.
The Lambeth Palace Garden is now one of the oldest and largest private gardens in London. Today it forms part of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ministry and is used by many different organizations and charities. An historic site, it is a most important part of the English heritage.
Tours of the Palace take place twice weekly, on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and 2pm and on Fridays at 11am from February until November.
The garden is open to the public only three times a year for;
- National Gardens Scheme on a Saturday afternoon in late May
- London Open garden Squares on the first Saturday in June
- North Lambeth Parish Fete on the last Saturday afternoon in June.